Of Naples and Neymar
I know, I know. It’s like comparing Naples and oranges, but it may not be totally worthless to remember, at this juncture, another footballer moving from Camp Nou to less sanctified climes and the debate that move generated like a barking football.
At 24, Diego Maradona in 1984 was a year younger than what Neymar is today. He was having a worse time at Barcelona than Neymar is supposed to have had of late, prompting the Brazilian’s departure to Paris St Germain.
Remember, in 1984 Maradona is pre-1986, pre-El Diego, showing flashes of what is to come, but getting into onfield fights, yet to actually pull off (and into the net) what he would in, and after, Mexico. And he was scrapping with the Barca management, not fitting in. A star peg-inthe-making in the wrong gloryhole.
But sure enough, there was a club willing to scoop him out of the liveried bowels of Barca for a then-world record transfer fee of — hold your breath — $10.48 million. (Paul Pogba’s transfer fee from Juventus to Machester United in 2016, till a few days ago the highest, was not that stratospheric, once you count inflation and today’s desperate club-eat-club capitalism. Whereas, Neymar’s transfer fee of $263 million, well, it’s just the stuff that you’d expect to find in Bizarro World where Planet htraE is cubeshaped, Bizarro bonds are ‘Guaranteed to lose money for you!’, and Donald Trump reads The Nicomachean Ethics.)
Maradona’s was seen as a weird move. Looking at the June 1982 photograph (see pic) in which the Argentine is ‘celebrating’ his arrival with Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino, it seems that everyone’s stepped on a turd before beingmadetoposewithskimpy,supermarketchampagne. And Barca wasn’t unpleased to let him go.
ButitwasstillMaradonamovingfromCruyff’sBarcelona to, um, Giuseppe Savoldi’s Napoli.
Neymar, or so the theory goes – and like the one about EarthcirclingtheSun,Iamliabletoputmymoneyon—is ready to be the bigger fish in a small(er) pond. While the Brazilianhasbeenanundeniablepronginthetridentthat was Messi-Suarez-Neymar — ‘MSN’ to everyone except Marathis–hewasaprongtoMessi’sgong.Somethingthat inarguably, but understandably, has been the case with the rest of the team, shiny, happy Suarez included.
While fan fingers are now wagging with the words, ‘The club is bigger than you, boy’, a similar jibe went out to Maradona when he joined the ‘non-Italian Italian club’. His first season with Napoli saw the club 8th in Serie A.
As this season’s Ligue 1 kicks off tonight, Neymar will be well aware that PSG ended No. 2 behind Monaco last season. There is only one way to go: up. (Well, actually, no, considering PSG could well slide down the Ligue 1 pole into impenetrable depths of Europa and worse, but you know what I mean.) It took Maradona two seasons — and that World Cup — to make gravity do his bidding. In 1986, El Diego pulled Napoli singlehandedly to a double — and by 1988-89, Napoli was Europe’s champion club. Once again, I know, I know, it’s Naples and Neymar. But at 25, doomed to be under the shadow of the world’s finest footballer, what would you do? Aim to break the glass ceiling, win PSG the Champion’s League (along with Ligue 1, of course), and, who knows, get Brazil back its World championing glory? Frankly, it’s the most obvious thing for Neymar to do: want to make PSG a Napoli, and be a Messi in PSG.
FOOTBUBBLY: Maradona with Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino following his arrival to the club in 1984